O level Notes : FRS - Indigenous Religion And Unhu/Ubuntu/Vumunhu, Values And Sexuality

This topic deals with religion, ethics, health and sexuality.  Firstly, morals and values from Indigenous religion and how they shape Zimbabwean identity have been discussed. Secondly, the topic explains how Indigenous religion beliefs help shape societal attitude on femininity and masculinity as well as assess the contributions of Indigenous religion to Unhu or Ubuntu.

This topic deals with religion, ethics, health and sexuality.  Firstly, morals and values from Indigenous religion and how they shape Zimbabwean identity have been discussed. Secondly, the topic explains how Indigenous religion beliefs help shape societal attitude on femininity and masculinity as well as assess the contributions of Indigenous religion to Unhu or Ubuntu. Lastly, it focuses on how religious beliefs influence people with chronic conditions.


Zimbabwean  culture’s uniqueness is because of its moral values which gives identity to its people. Such values are imparted from childhood by family members so as to bring up an individual with unhu or ubuntu. A cultured person is needed in every society to maintain peace and unity. No man lives in an island, what one does affect the whole world and through Unhu or Ubuntu, Zimbabwean  culture shapes the behaviour of a person.

 Indigenous religion as a source of morals and values in shaping Zimbabwean identity

 Morality or morals is a word which can be defined as a set of social rules, principles, norms that guide or are intended to guide the conduct of people in a society, and beliefs about right and wrong conduct as well as good or bad character. Values are defined as important and lasting beliefs or ideals shared by the members of a culture about what is good  or bad and desirable or undesirable. Values have a major influence on a person’s behaviour and attitude and serve as broad guidelines in all situations.

 Moral values mean the ideals that are central to our sense of being a good  person. They are the worthy ideals or principles  that one follows to distinguish  the right from the wrong. These ideals or virtues are considered worthy in building up the character of an individual.

It is important for a child to have a sound base of strong moral values. The future of Zimbabwe  depends upon the moral values imparted on a child. The family is a key social engine as it transfers the values of a community to the next generation.

 Moral values refer to the good virtues such as honesty, integrity, truthfulness, compassion, helpfulness, love, respectfulness, hard work, justice, rights and responsibilities of both the individual and community. Morality entails the norms and values of any given society.

Values permeate every aspect of human life. They explain what is good or right and what is acceptable in society. Values occupy a central place in people’s culture particularly indigenous  people. The moral value of Zimbabwean  culture is what gives it uniqueness and identity. Zimbabwean  moral values hold people together and guarantee their continual existence.

In Zimbabwe, Indigenous religion is the source and foundation of morality. Moral values are entwined with culture which is greatly related to spiritual beliefs. Indigenous  religion teaches how to behave and act. It provides a framework within which people can learn the difference between right and wrong shaping the behaviour of a persson, In Indigenous religion, the following are some of the values cherished:

  • respect:
  • love
  • honesty
  • courtesy
  • cooperation
  • integrity
  • loyalty
  • chastity
  • hospitality
  • unity and solidarity
  • tolerance and perseverance

Through such values Indigenous  religion helps to shape an individual’s identity. Indigenous  religion even provides different ways of dealing with moral dilemmas. For example, on murder the guilty family has to pay a compensating  fine to avoid avenging  spirits.

 Sources of unhu and their impact on Zimbabwean identity

 In Indigenous religion institutions have risen as sources of morals and values as well as safeguarding the life of an individual and the community in which he or she lives. These are:

 (a) Marriage

 Marriage is considered as the most sacred institution in any society. It is a pillar on which every society gain support. Certain values need to be adhered to and practised so as to have a successful relationship. Such values include  honesty, equality, commitment, respect, understanding, discipline  and faithfulness. Sharing such moral values is a framework of a healthy marriage which is acceptable in society. Zimbabwean identity is marked by honest, complementarity, equality, respect and faithfulness which are attributes of unhu or ubuntu derived from marriage. For example, marriage teaches the men and women in marriage to be responsible by providing for the family. Most women work mainly during the rainy season in agricultural production while their male counterparts work in towns and abroad to fend for the family. So, marriage is a source of morals and values which shapes Zimbabwean  identity.

 (b) Family

 The first social relationships are formed in a family. It is the family that shapes a person for it is the foundation  of a society. Traditional  values of hospitality  and  social  cohesion  are manifested  in the collective efforts of the family. Children are taught values, ethics, trained on what is right and wrong and how to interact with people. The family shapes Zimbabwean  identity through morals and values instilled into Zimbabwean  citizens. The young  people who have a true mark of Zimbabwean  identity respect elders and  every elder is treated as a parent. This comes  from the family which  socialises children that all elders are parents and deserve respect.

(c) Community

 The community is the guardian of the individual. Indigenous religion stresses community life and communalism   as  a  living  principle  of  which  the  fundamental  ideology   is  community   identity.  The community  shapes the behaviour of a person. Good behaviour reflects that the person is coming  from a good  society. Zimbabwean  identity is marked by communalism, a person belongs  to the community. There is no individualism among indigenous  people in Zimbabwe. No one is treated as the other because of communalism.

 People are identified as one at family, community  and national level. This is the reason why when one commits a crime is regarded as dangerous to the whole community. Furthermore, because of communalism Zimbabweans  have an identity of helping one another in times of happiness and distress. Social gatherings like weddings, funerals and family rituals show the identity of Zimbabweans  as one. People unite for one common purpose which makes tasks in the community to be accomplished easily.

(d) Chieftainship

Chieftainship is at the core of our being as an African society. This is so because chiefs play an important role in defining and keeping the people together. They are stewards of the morals and values in Indigenous religion. In other words, they give an identity to a society they are representing. Chiefs are vanguards  of cultural values. They have a duty to protect and uphold the country’s cultural values. When moral values are not upheld, chiefs intervene to redress the situation either through punishment or paying a fine. Their duty is to curb moral decadence in the society.

Chiefs are religious practitioners in Indigenous  religion and they are reservoirs of morals and values that shape  Zimbabwean  identity. For example, Zimbabweans  are identified  with good  sexual conduct  and chiefs as sources of morals and values who punish people who commit sexual offences like bestiality, incest and adultery which are all regarded as taboos in Zimbabwean  society. It is because of this reason that chieftainship are a source of morals and values. Chiefs should be the yardstick of morality in the community and morality is what identifies Zimbabweans.

Unhu or Ubuntu in Indigenous religion

Unhu is a way of life which is linked to religion. It embodies all virtues that maintain harmony and the spirit of sharing among members of society. Indigenous  religion beliefs show that an individual’s actions today are a reflection on the past and will have far reaching consequences for the future. One qualifies to be an ancestor if he has lived a respectable life on earth. Only those who die having upheld the concept of ubuntu will join the ancestral world. What an individual does affects the whole family. If one commits murder, the spirit of the murdered victim will return and haunt the clan of the murderer. So, to safe guard the future generation not to have miserable lives it is important for a person to always think of others before one act. Those who uphold  the principle of ubuntu throughout  their lives will in death achieve unity with those living. Ubuntu has to be displayed at all times in all circumstances and the idea of ethics.

In Zimbabwe, ubuntu maintains peace and harmony in a nation. People know what is good and evil, right and wrong. A violation of morals and values is an offense against all these individuals. Moral and values helps to keep society alive and in harmony with unhu or ubuntu. Unhu is the essence of the African moral system and it’s a concept which focuses on the character-based ethics. In Indigenous religion, one has to adhere to values and principles in indigenous society. Some of the aspects of Unhu emphasised in Indigenous religion are:

1. Universal human brotherhood (or unity)

The African man is first and foremost a member of his family, the extended family, the community and his

society in that order before being an individual. The African man has a social and communal nature which is based on unity. The African culture can complement the Western culture by integrating individualism with the communal nature of life.

2. Hospitality


At all times, there is always unprompted welcome and accommodation  to unfamiliar persons and visitors. Africans effortlessly welcome strangers and offer them where to sleep as well as giving them food.

3. Compassion


An African is supposed to exhibit compassion to the others. This is the reason why there is either extended family system or individualism.

4. Generosity


Unhu entails that one should express sheer generosity to the needy in society. It is because of the attribute of unhu that helps in inculcating the belief that we are all human.


5. Fairness

It is a negation of unhu to take sides when dealing with others. Fairness involve impartial and just treatment of others. Unhu entails that there should be impartiality and equal treatment of others. Every member of society is important and favouritism should be avoided as it is against the spirit of unhu.



Unhu means that one has to be just in executing judgements. Every person with unhu upholds the spirit of justice. Oppression of the others and social injustice is against the spirit of unhu or ubuntu.


7. Truth


Lying is against the spirit of unhu or ubuntu. Truth helps in solving problems of the family, society and nation at large. It is an important attribute of unhu necessary for peace and stability of the society.


8. Respect


Unhu or ubuntu is exhibited by regarding others with high esteem. Respect involves honouring someone by showing care, concern and consideration of their feelings and needs.  It is because of this reason that elders should be respected at all times. For example, the young should show respect and avoid insulting elders and make them feel comfortable especially when they are travelling in a bus. The young should make way for the elders to sit first.


9. Integrity


Integrity is the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles. A person is said to have unhu or ubuntu when he or she is honest and has good moral principles and values. It is an attribute of unhu which reduces promiscuity, corruption and greediness in society.

Religion, femininity and masculinity

Femininity is a characteristic of acting in a female way while masculinity is a characteristic of acting in a male way. Masculinity and femininity are social constructs because women and men are expected to act in a certain way for him and her to be regarded as a man and woman respectively. In simple terms, masculinity is having qualities traditionally associated with men whereas femininity is having qualities or an appearance traditionally associated with women for example prettiness and delicacy. Therefore, society often prescribes that a man is what a woman is not. The other definition of masculinity is those behaviours, languages  and practices, existing  in specific cultural and organisational  locations, which are commonly  associated with males and culturally defined as not feminine.

Religion plays a major role in shaping the expected characterisitcs of men and women.  In many instances, it is religion that shapes the names given to men and women at birth. Also, in many African contexts, it is religion that outlines what a “real man” is supposed to be, spells out his qualities and outlines his roles in the home, in the community, in religion and in the nation. Indigenous religion plays a major role in shaping what a man and woman is in society.

Religion influences and reinforces both positive and negative attitudes, behaviours and practices of men and women in terms of perception on femininity and masculinity. There is a close connection between religion, femininity and masculinity  because religion  plays a major role in defining  the roles and responsibilities of men and women. Religion plays a major role in shaping the roles of men and women in society hence influencing femininity and masculinity. Indigenous religion has influenced or shaped femininity and masculinity because men are regarded as superior in physical strength, firmness, fearlessness, decisiveness, ability to protect the weak, principled, controlling, conquering, risking, leading, being assertive and to enjoy a high social status. Masculinity is also associated with intelligence, bravery, sobriety, unemotionality, and an absence of smiles. On the contrary, femininity is the opposite of this. Femininity and masculinity are not natural attributes but rather social constructions.

  • Men are powerful and women are weak. Indigenous religion believes that men are powerful. Men are associated with “strength, vigour, being powerful, courage, self-confidence and the ability to meet the outside world. This is the reason why in indigenous society a man is supposed to do all the work which requires strength like digging, hoeing and lifting heavy things while women are expected to perform household chores which are lighter like sweeping, cleaning and washing. Women played an important role in agriculture and are confined at home because Indigenous religion believes that Musha mukadzi meaning a home is best when there is a woman.
  • On the contrary, it is a taboo for men to wash, cook and sweep in indigenous society while women who  do  men’s work  are regarded  as having  a spirit  of a man  “shavi rechirume”.  Furthermore, Indigenous religion regard women as lacking courage hence they cannot kill a snake when it invades the homestead. It is regarded as a duty of men hence men are seen as courageous, they defend the family because of their ability of being strong and powerful. It is religion that outlines what a “real man” is supposed to be, spells out his attributes and roles in the home, community, religion and the nation at large.
  • Myths in Indigenous religion shape society’s attitude on femininity and masculinity. For example, Indigenous religion through the Mwedzi myth explains that men should have more than one sexual partner. This has shaped men to regard polygamy  as good for men while it is a taboo for a woman to have several husbands.
  • Leading is a masculinity  attribute  while  subordination  is a feminine  attribute  which  has  been influenced by religion. Religion has helped in the construction of men as leaders and this has led to the subordination of women in different social and political contexts in indigenous societies. Chiefs, Headman and village heads are men in indigenous communities. The right to leadership is limited to men and women are denied leadership roles because of religion. Indigenous religion believes that leading is an attribute of men and women are subordinate beings.
  • Religion has also shaped femininity and masculinity  by justifying  gender-based  violence against women and women are supposed to accept gender-based violence. Women in marriage are made to accept being disciplined by men because of religion while men believe that masculinity involve physical violence against women. It is unfeminine to report a man for domestic violence and women suffer in silence because of femininity. Masculinity relies on religion in supporting  violence against women and femininity relies on religion to be submissive and receptive of violence against them.
  • Religions socialise men to fulfil the role of fathers. In Indigenous  religion they believe that men are the head of the family.  It is vital to observe that the fatherhood role involve physical fatherhood and social fatherhood where a man can mentor the young  men. Therefore, religion shapes the belief that men are fathers and women are mothers. In Christianity the same concept is expressed in 1 Corinthians 7:39 which says that, “A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives.” This explains the role of men as heads of families and fathers.
  • Marriage is also another social institution which has been influenced or shaped by religious teaching and practices in terms of femininity and masculinity. Religion believes that marriage is the solution to sexual immorality. Firstly, Indigenous religion advocates that one should marry a wife to enjoy sexual pleasures and if one is not satisfied with one wife, he can have several wives. Furthermore, the proverbs which state that a man is a bull shapes masculinity in the sense that men are portrayed as sexually strong and women are there to quench the sexual pleasures of men. Women are therefore influenced to accept men when they have several sexual partners. A man in indigenous  society is regarded as a real man by having many wives. Sex defines masculinity in Indigenous religion and it is defined not only by having sex but by having many sexual partners.
  • In Indigenous religion, an unmarried man is not allowed to take part at the traditional court. This influences femininity and masculinity as women are portrayed as weak in terms of decision making while men are regarded as strong in terms of their decision making abilities.

1. The Indigenous religion


  • Women are viewed as weak and are given light duties such as household duties. They are to cook and to bring up children. Their position is in the house, they are supposed to act as domestic workers.
  • Women are docile, they are to be submissive to their husbands and to depend on males.
  • Women are sexy and should always keep themselves attractive.
  • Women should have a nurturing characteristic and it is the duty of a mother to nurture and care for her children. She should teach her children to respect, love as well as to do their duties.
  • Women are emotional and this is the reason why at a funeral it is women who wail.
  • Men are regarded as strong individuals and that is why they are given hard tasks. It is men who dig, clear fields and hunt.
  • Men are breadwinners, it is their responsibility to provide for the family.
  • Men are leaders they are believed to be the head of the family. They are decision makers.
  • Men are believed to be independent. In a family they can even make decisions without consulting the wife who in turn is expected to support her husband.

2. Judaism

  • Women are inferior to men (Genesis 2 vs 27). They depend on men economically.
  • Women are homemakers.  She is a keeper of the household  and determines  the character and atmosphere of the household and the future of the children.
  • Women nurture their children in Jewish teachings and enforcing laws, rituals and ceremonies that preserve Jewish identity.
  • Men are the head of the family and they make decisions and provide for the family.

3. Christianity

  • Women are regarded as weaker vessels. They are to focus on the upbringing of children.
  • Women are docile  and submissive.  They are under their husbands  and are to depend  on their husbands.
  • Males are providers, they support their families through working.
  • Men are leaders and the head of the family.

4. Islam

  • Women are regarded as properties owned by men. They are considered inferior to men. They are considered to be the absolute  property of males such as fathers, brothers and husbands. They depend on males financially.
  • Women are submissive and sex objects. If a Muslim wife refuses the sexual advances of her husband, she is accursed for the night and her husband is not obliged to support her. Islam requires the Muslim woman to obey her husband.
  • Women are deficient in gratitude and her character is likened to a crooked rib because she was created from a man’s rib. Therefore, it is a great sacrifice and condescension on the man’s part to share his life with the woman.
  • Men are providers for women.
  • Women in Islam can be beaten in the case of insubordination.



Definition of sexuality

Sexuality is defined as the way that an individual perceives him or herself as a sexual being as expressed through sexual attitudes and desires. It includes gender identity that is the core sense that one is a female or male and comes with its roles on how one should behave. Sexuality is a key aspect of being human and a core component  of gender relations and individual  identity that is experienced in thoughts, fantasies, desires, beliefs,  attitudes, values, behaviours, practices, roles and  relationships. It also  includes  sexual orientation that is heterosexual.

Religious beliefs and sexuality

Beliefs and attitudes about sexuality are not in-born things, but they are acquired as a person grows and matures. Sexuality involves the way that a person views himself or herself as a sexual being through sexual preferences and actions. Religion plays a large role in shaping attitudes about sexuality as some religions prescribe acceptable sexual behaviour. Traditionally, female sexuality has been narrowly defined either in only biological terms or in response to male sexuality.

Indigenous religion values unhu and as such some form of sexuality accepted in the Western world are not accepted. It is an anathema for one to engage in lesbianism and homosexuality. As such, it is a taboo to be identified with the kind of sexuality that is not African. On the contrary heterosexual is the only acceptable form of sexuality. Indigenous  religion believes that lesbianism and homosexuality are against the spirit of unhu or ubuntu and it angers ancestors and this can result in calamities such as drought, pestilence and famine. Judaism and Christianity connect female sexuality with sin. This emanates from the biblical teaching which traces that sin began with women and it resulted in the death penalty by God. Genesis 3 blamed Eve and gave her full responsibility for the introduction of sin into the world. This has affected the way female sexuality is perceived in Judaism and Christianity. It is clear that sexuality has been profoundly affected by the religion particularly female sexuality.

Furthermore, bisexual, asexual, lesbianism and homosexuality are all condemned  by Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Religions condemn these forms of sexuality.  This is because these forms of sexuality are against procreation and continuance of the human race. Sex is a sacred duty and is for marriage. Procreation is the sole purpose of sex.  Premarital sex is forbidden. A young woman is to maintain her virginity for marriage. This is the reason why virginity tests are practised to maintain social norms regarding  premarital sex. Sex only occurs in marriage. A young  woman’s virginity  is an economically  and socially valuable asset. It is accompanied by a token in form of a cow known as mombe yechimanda. If a woman was not found a virgin it brought shame to the family. The husband’s family could even negotiate for a decrease on the bride price for she would have proved not to be a chastity wife. The girl would lose respect. Hence Indigenous religion plays a special role of reducing non-marital sex behaviours.



Definition of chronic conditions

Chronic means a condition that is persistent and comes with time and generally lasts for more than three months. Religions have showed mixed feelings towards people with chronic conditions. Conditions  with chronic illness due to diseases such as HIV and AIDS remain a challenge to treat and are associated with high health care. Examples of chronic conditions include; cancer, epilepsy, Blood Pressure, heartache, Arthritis, Diabetes, Asthma, HIV and AIDS among others.


An individual’s religion may be one such factor that can influence the experience of chronic illness. The role of religious beliefs during critical illness cannot be underestimated as religion provide ways of coping with illness and in some cases, religion can be of no help to chronic conditions. This includes the following:


  • lead to tolerance of the disease.
  • enhance relaxation or reduces stress associated with illness.
  • help to reduce the negative consequences of chronic health conditions through prayer.
  • spiritual support  is conveyed  by care from congregations,  religious  counselling  and forgiveness practices, and assistance from pastors and hospital chaplains.

Indigenous religion and chronic conditions

Causes of chronic conditions in Indigenous religion have a supernatural origin, they do not come naturally. Diseases are not just a physical condition; they are also a religious matter. Good health comes after one is spiritually upright as a means to please other mystical forces that may cause illness. Chronic conditions in Indigenous  religion can be avoided by having a good relationship with spirits who control people’s lives. Indigenous religion followers have different beliefs on people with chronic conditions. These are;


  • Chronic conditions are caused by breaching natural laws. Restoration of this law through confession and performance of rituals and in most cases payment of fines will help to restore, maintain and correct human disorder.
  • Failure to fulfil human obligations can result in chronic conditions.
  • Human  actions  and  activities  that  breach  stipulated  moral  codes  in  society  result  in  chronic conditions. For example, unfaithfulness in a marriage.
  • Chronic conditions can be as a result of the disturbance in the relationship between man and his social environment  or from forces directed by witches,  wizards,  sorcerers, evil spirits or angered ancestors because of infraction of totemic principles.
  • People do not just suffer from chronic conditions  by chance, it is believed to have its origin in a primary supernatural cause.
  • If a person becomes ill with chronic conditions it implies that the spiritual world will have removed their protective powers as punishment. Corrective rituals should be carried out to appease these spirits to get the protection once again.
  • Consultinga diviner for the cause of an illness is the beginningof a healingprocess and the restoration of health in an individual.



  • Chronic conditions are as a result of punishment for disobedience of God’s command.
  • Diseases are viewed as a result of sinful behaviour or ethical shortcomings.
  • The wellbeing of an individual is a gift from God, so He is the one who cures and heals the sick.
  • At times chronic conditions are viewed as a sign to test one’s faith for example Exodus 4 vs 6-8
  • Proper nutrition is viewed as primary for health. Certain prohibitions are given on diet and failure to abide by such laws could result in one suffering from chronic diseases.


  • Chronic conditions can either be a blessing or curse among Muslims.
  • As a blessing, falling ill might be Allah’s blessing in disguise preventing one to pursue a dangerous path that can prove harmful to one’s life.
  • Muslims believe that Allah is just, therefore whatever situation a believer finds himself in, he knows there is goodness and wisdom embedded in it.
  • Diseases  may  befall  on  an  individual  because  of disobedience.  Through  this  way  it can  be  a punishment for disobedience.



  • Diseases are a result of an individual’s sin or parent’s sins. Chronic conditions come as punishment.
  • As a way of testing one’s faith, God might allow one to suffer from a disease. Despite the situation one finds himself or herself in, it should not shake one’s faith. God alone has power to heal the sickness.
  • The Second Advent will bring with it an end to diseases, so chronic conditions are temporary.

Positive influence of religious beliefs

  • Religious beliefs enable followers to maintain a good relationship with the deities.
  • Religious beliefs give an understanding  as to the cause of the disease and seek assistance on the healing process.
  • Religious beliefs provide with it solutions to chronic conditions.


Negative influence of religious beliefs

  • Religious beliefs  pave  way  for discrimination  in  society,  for example  if it is because  of sin  or disobedience.
  • Some chronic conditions only require traditional herbs to cure and some might have no cure resulting in death.
  • People might have mixed feelings on people with chronic conditions. Instead of showing sympathy others feel that justice was done on such people.
  • Some African Initiated Churches forbid their members to visit clinics and hospitals for treatment of chronic illness thereby causing death of people and continuous spread of chronic diseases.